Five Ways Gilead Will Change Your Life

There comes a time in every reader’s life when one book will slow the present.

One book will change the way the rest of life is lived.

For me, this took the form of Marilynne Robinson‘s Pulitzer Prize winning Gilead, the story of an Iowa preacher bearing witness of a well-lived life to a son he will never see fully grown.

I’ve been reading this book for the last month. It’s not thick, but it’s dense. I’ve savored each sentence, written down entire paragraphs, dog-eared most pages. I’ve waited in silent reflection after closing the book for the night.

But most of all, I’ve been handed precious wisdom from Robinson’s narrator, John Ames. Each episode told unraveling more truth and wisdom, the kind that can only be internalized to be lived.


ONE: Life is poetic.

“I believe seeing that might actually kill me, which would not be such a terrible thing for a person in my circumstances. A stab of grief as coup de grace – there’d be poetry in it.”

Poetry is evocative, aesthetic, lyrical. It moves in rhythm, in time. It hinges on symbolism, diction, metaphor. It falls in layers, in parallels. It moves line by line, each word pregnant with purpose. And meaning.

Life is no different. Yet we make it out to be.


TWO: Beauty lies in the moments of altered perception.

“It is all still new to me. I have lived my life on the prairie and a line of oak trees can still astonish me.”

We bypass the smallest moments, the quietest ones, in favor of loud events and dramatic scenes. But sometimes the beauty of life is much closer than we think. Sometimes all we need is a second glance, a shift in perception to catch on.

These moments are pieces of a well-lived life, a life of purpose and beauty.


THREE: The waiting is just what we need.

“Now that I look back, it seems to me that in all that deep darkness a miracle was preparing. So I am right to remember it as a blessed time, and myself as waiting in confidence, even if I had no idea what I was waiting for.”

In a life defined by purpose, even the longest periods of standing still carry meaning. We wait for answers, for green signals, for signs, and we complain of stilled soles. But those moments hold significance, no matter how unwilling we are to acknowledge it. Those times prepare us for the good – and the bad – to come, they give us space to dream and work, they serve as periods of growth.

And we waste them in complaint.


FOUR: Nothing good comes from self-protection.

“And often enough, when we think we are protecting ourselves, we are struggling against our rescuer.”

Self-protection is nothing more than an instinct to keep us safe. And that’s the last thing we need.

Life is an adventure to be lived, a story to be told. There’s no room for safety in the art of living.


FIVE: There’s art in the unconditional.

“You see how it is godlike to love the being of someone.”

We condemn people again and again, their past sins like stains even Lady Macbeth could never wipe away. And yet we forget the mystery of existence itself, the beauty of cells and bones and blood, the beauty of motion and emotion and personality.

Love is looking for the artistry of being, blind to the faults and mistakes so typical of the human race.


Gilead will always be one of the books I keep close.


What book has changed your perception of life?